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US Wireless Market Q4 2011 and 2011 – Addendum March 26, 2012

Posted by chetan in : 3G, 4G, AORTA, Devices, Tablets, US Wireless Market, WiMax, Wireless Value Chain, Worldwide Wireless Market , add a comment

Last week, we issued our quarterly update on the US market. Wanted to expand on and clarify a statistic we mentioned in the update. We reported that “90% of the tablets use WiFi only.” For our analysis, we looked at the overall cumulative tablet base in the US and not the specific sales numbers for a given year or quarter.

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I wanted to provide some more details behind those numbers. 90% of the tablets using WiFi only doesn’t mean that 90% of the tablets SOLD are WiFi only. What we were saying was that by the end of 2011, roughly 90% of the tablets (which are a combination of WiFi only tablets like the Kindle Fire or the Samsung Galaxy or the Apple iPad and WiFi+Cellular tablets like the Samsung Galaxy, the Motorola Xoom, and the Apple iPad) were using WiFi only to connect to the network. Some of these tablets are also using MiFi and tethering capabilities of their devices to connect to the cellular network as well.

So, how does the overall tablet landscape in the US breakdown by connectivity type. As indicated in the figure below over 62% of the tablets in the US are WiFi only. Another 25% are WiFi+Cellular but are not activated by the consumer so the total WiFi tablets in use as of Q4 2011 were roughly 87% of the mix. These included tablets such as Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet along with traditional tablets such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy. A small percentage of these users connect these users to the cellular network via MiFi and tethering options as well.

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This also means that roughly one third of the tablets with cellular connections were activated as of Q4 2011. Since customers go in-and-out of the prepaid tablet contracts, the actual number of tablets that have had a cellular connection at some point in time is obviously larger. In general, the churn is low as consumers who get hooked onto the cellular connectivity outside the WiFi zone don’t want to give it up.

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Another important point is that this distribution is not uniform across all operators either in the US or abroad. Overseas, some operators have launched family data plans where users can attach multiple devices to a single data plan just like they do for voice plans. Canadian operator Rogers launched family data plans wherein family can share 1-2 GB/mo across multiple devices. Orange Austria, France, and Spain offer two devices per data plan that includes unlimited WiFi and 2GB shared data across both devices. Vodafone Ireland offers shared mobile broadband for business users with 5GB limit shared across unlimited users. The cost for this plan is $10/connection/month with additional 5GB for $14.

Also, operators who offer more flexibility in their data plans by providing daily or weekly passes (like AT&T and Verizon provide for laptops and netbooks ) or even hourly data plans (more prevalent in developing countries) will see more traction with the tablet consumers.

Finally, another barrier to greater cellular tablet adoption is the cost difference between WiFi only and WiFi+Cellular tablets. Clearly, iPad rules the tablet market right now and the price difference between the two classes of devices is $129, enough to dissuade a segment of the tablet loving population. As the price of HSPA+ and LTE modules come down further, the difference in price between the two classes of devices is likely to go away.

US remains the leading nation in terms of tablet use and as the pricing plans mature across all the operators and the OEM costs go down, we will see majority of the consumers using cellular connectivity in the market.